Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Cup: Jelly Jar or Chalice

There are those who often look down upon the ritual and ceremonies of the Church, upon vestments and paraments, upon artistry and beauty.  They plead for the simple faith of Jesus, for the simple worship of the Word without human adornment, and of the simple cup of Jesus without distraction of human skill and accomplishment.  There are those who would suggest that Jesus used a simple cup (recall the Indiana Jones movie The Last Crusade and that line about the simple cup of a carpenter).  It is as if Jesus would have reached up into the kitchen cabinet and drawn out a jelly jar and used that in the first Eucharist.  I am not convinced.

How easy it is for us to forget that the Last Supper was not an informal meal. Never mind the long running debate over whether it followed the liturgy of the passover meal or of another form of sacred meal associated with the passover.  At minimum it was undoubtedly a Jewish liturgical meal in which all aspects (the bread, the wine, and the vessels) were set apart for sacred use.  If we adhere to the Passover context of the meal, then it is even less likely that the vessels used were simply everyday kitchen items.  When Jesus bids His disciples to prepare the Passover, this was not a utilitarian function but the command to follow the ancient ritual from its first founding.  As Jesus honored the Temple and the Synagogue (while at the same time cleansing the worship), we can expect that Jesus honored the time tested liturgy or ritual for the Passover that was familiar to Him and to His disciples.  Then, as today, the vessels, foods, and meal are scripted and set apart for sacred usage.

The cup used by our Lord is quite properly called a chalice, it was most likely of precious metal or the best of household and not merely because of the material with which it was made, but because of its usage.  From Passover to Eucharist this was the cup of the Lord by which He communed His disciples upon His very blood and through which he bequeathed to His Church this means of grace by which we eat, drink, and live.  The hands that held this cup, as its contents, were holy and and blessed.  It is of the very nature of the Eucharist we observe today that we honor the cup for what it bears to us -- the very blood of Christ.  There is something wrong when we offer as the bearer of this blood anything less than our finest effort for what our Lord offers to us of His best and greatest sacrifice for us and our salvation.

In the same way, I fear that we have a utilitarian attitude toward the whole of worship.  We act as if there is something special about a piety which eschews anything but the basics.  We are not enhancing anything by leaving things bare or stark.  In fact, we are doing just the opposite.  We are detracting from the Word and the Table of the Lord by refusing to honor these means of grace for what they are.  When the Scriptures decry those who honor the Lord with their lips but their hearts are empty, this is no justification for full hearts and empty lips.  Words matter.  Actions matter.

Many, many years ago I was part of a planning group for a Eucharist on campus where I went to college.  The cruet was the bottle of wine.  The cup was borrowed from the cafeteria.  And we thought it was cool.  I have repented the callous way I treated the things of God and I lament that a part of me ever thought this was good, right, or salutary.  Yet too many seem perfectly content, even proud of the humility of circumstance and setting, when better is not only available but part of the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that flows from the gift of Christ and the fulness of His grace and mercy in this Sacrament.

Or should we use a jelly jar for the cup.... and paper table cloths for the altar... well, at least we keep the pew cushions for our comfort and the HVAC set so that we are at ease in Zion... I just do not get it...


Janis Williams said...

Just another way that Calvin has crept into Luther's space.....

Anonymous said...

"LESS LIKELY the vessels were
everyday items"

"WE CAN EXPECT Jesus used vessels
set apart for sacred usage"

"the chalice was MOST LIKELY of
precious metal"

Sounds like someone does not have
any Biblical evidence to make his

Lurker said...

Spend some time looking at the ritual that accompanied the Passover going back long before Jesus... You do not need to have explicit Biblical reference for well documented practice. The foods were prescribed, the ritual was uniform, it was one of the highest and most holy days of the entire year. Pastor Peters is right. They did not use paper plates and plastic cups. Can you find any direct Bible reference for the children of Christians or a woman being baptized? Does that mean we only baptized non-Christian children and males? Proof texting is a flawed methodology.

Janis Williams said...

Right, Lurker.

There are no texts with the word "Trinity" in them, to use the most commonly used argument. Thanks from a former proof-texter.

I was raised under the Regulative Principle. How freeing to come to Lutheranism and the Normative Principle. It is more Biblical in practice within liturgical Lutheranism. The narrow idea we must do only what is commanded/practiced in the Scriptures (the Letter, and Law, not the Spirit, and Gospel) is also a place for proof-texters to let loose.

I found practices in the Regulative church bodies (such as in the Eucharist) not synonymous with the Bible. The Normative (read Lutheran) is far more concerned with right worship.

Terry Maher said...

Both sides of this controversy miss the mark instead leaning on human-only ideas of what God would like.

The rules for kashrut are clear and exact, and there are extra ones for Passover. So extra that many Jewish families have two kitchens, one just for Passover, not at all to have a really nice fancy kitchen for God to show him how much we care about all this, but to follow the prescriptions of kashrut because that is what he cares about. God's works, not Man's.

The Last Seder was not in a family and not in a home so it is impossible to say, from Scripture or anything else, what was used. But, as this seder was part of the fulfilling of the Law by Jesus, it is possible to say how it was used. Which is, the focus on neither a false piety of having humble looking tableware nor a false piety of having really nice looking tableware, but on what does the Lord require, which is ritually pure tableware be it simple or fancy.

What the Lord requires now is faith in the words "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins". There is nothing in the Christian Questions with their Answers, for those going to Communion, about making sure the chalice is either simple or ornate, or that any efforts be made in either direction. It's about what's in the cup, and our faith in it, not the cup itself, and making a big deal about the cup itself detracts from that either way, insinuating Man's works into God's.

Anonymous said...

insinuating Man's works into God's...
So Scripture never bids us to offer all we have and all we are to the Lord in response to His self-offering (His best)? So when Paul tells us whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things he only means thoughts or prayers or spiritual virtues and not our best in physical things as part of the fitting response to the Lord's goodness? Surely some of you are missing the point. We are NOT intermixing God's gifts and our own but returning to Him that which is befitting Him, for His sacrificial gift of Himself. So if we have fine china at home and silver to use for ourselves and we use paper and plastic for His Supper that says nothing about us?

Terry Maher said...

Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit mihi? Calicem salutaris accipiam et nomen Domini invocabo.

That's what he wants for all he has given us, take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord, not worry about whether the cup is Axios. Take and eat. Take and drink. Here he is purely giving to us who have nothing to give him.

I am arguing neither for nor against fancy chalices or simple ones, but against making a big deal of it either way.

Leave it, in the wonderful words of the General Rubrics to The Lutheran Hymnal, as the circumstances of each congregation may indicate, along with all matters of elaborate or simple.

He sets the table for us, not we for him; and for that matter, fine china and silver are an "if" indeed, something not found in every home.